Nigeria: Bishops Skeptical About Election Fairness

March 10, 2023
On the right, the new president Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and on the left his vice-president, Kashim Shettima

Former Lagos Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu won Nigeria's February 25, 2023 presidential election, according to results released on March 1 by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and immediately contested by opposition parties.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a member of the Progressives Congress (APC), the party of his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari, won 8.8 million votes, ahead of his main rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) credited with 6.9 million votes, and outsider Peter Obi of the Labor Party (6.1 million votes) whose popularity with young people took everyone by surprise.

An election whose result was immediately contested by the opposition parties who believe that the vote count had been “heavily falsified and manipulated,” demanding an “immediate cancellation” of the election and calling for the holding of a “new ballot.”

The Nigerian Bishops' Conference is dubious, questioning the integrity of the Independent Electoral Commission: “In many polling stations, the human element has undermined the expected benefits of the innovations of the new electoral law,” says Msgr. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Archbishop of Owerri and President of the CBCN. The prelate alludes here to the establishment of electronic voting, subject to numerous manipulations.

“Furthermore,” adds the Archbishop of Owerri, “the delay in the electronic transmission of polling station results on the Commission’s consultation results portal prior to their proclamation has raised suspicions among many about the transparency of the entire process. So there is palpable tension in the air and unrest not only in some political parties but also in a significant part of the Nigerian population.”

It must be said that the Catholic Church does not look favorably on the arrival of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as head of the Nigerian state. By announcing his candidacy on July 11, 2022, Muhammadu Buhari's successor had set aside an unspoken rule applied in Nigeria for several years.

For the first time, one of the main political parties in the country proposed, for the presidential election of 2023, a candidate and his running mate of the same religion. Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and APC candidate and Muslim, has chosen another Muslim, Kashim Shettima, senator and former governor of Borno State (Northeast), as future vice-president.

At the same time, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) warned of a “Muslim-Muslim ticket” in an already highly polarized country, with some Christians even attributing to Bola Tinubu the intention to Islamize the country. An accusation rejected by the person concerned on November 16: “My wife is Protestant, I have no hidden goal aimed at Islamizing the country,” declared the APC candidate at the time.

Nigeria is an English-speaking country of 216 million inhabitants, of which 54% are Muslims and 45% Christians, which should become, by 2050, the third most populous country in the world, in a West Africa threatened by the spread of jihadist violence.